Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world and has a long tradition. Green tea is often considered the epitome of health, black tea is a pleasant start to the day for many, matcha has become a lifestyle drink and special varieties such as oolong we associate with Far Eastern culture. What is it about tea and is it really as healthy as it is claimed to be?
What is tea actually?
No matter how many varieties you know, tea generally always comes from the same plant. You harvest the young shoot tips from Camellia sinensisthe tea plant, and then subjects it to a more or less elaborate processing procedure. In general, tea contains many phenolic compounds (also called catechins, tannins, or antioxidants). Furthermore, many teas also contain caffeine and then some minerals and trace elements. (Hänsel et al., 2010).
Apart from this, there are other "teas" such as mate tea, a South American drink made from the leaves of a species of holly, or herbal tea. In fact, these are not teas but infusions, which can bring many interesting effects, but are not the subject of this article.
Different types of tea
As already mentioned, there are many different types of tea, which differ in processing. The least processed is the white tea and this therefore has the highest content of antioxidants, followed by green tea and fermented black tea. (Hinojosa-Nogueira et al., 2021).
Tea varieties also differ in caffeine content, albeit only slightly. First to the varieties known in our latitudes, such as black tea. This has the largest amount of available caffeine, followed by green and white tea and thus about as much as a cup of espresso.
However, other varieties stand out in particular. In Matcha, for example, the fine tea powder is also consumed and the caffeine content is thus somewhat higher. Furthermore, there is a variety (less known to us) called Gyokuro. This tea is grown in the shade and can even show a higher content of caffeine. (Hinojosa-Nogueira et al., 2021; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology- Japan, 2015).
Effect of caffeine
Tea also contains significant amounts of caffeine, as I said, and the molecule is actually very little different from the molecule in coffee, so there is really no distinction between teein and caffeine.
Tea actually contains more caffeine than coffee, but this difference evens out again because less dry matter is needed to make a cup, or rather coffee contains more freely available caffeine than tea in some cases. (Gramza-Michałowska, 2014)
Nevertheless, people repeatedly describe different effects with tea and coffee. However, this could be due to the other ingredients and the method of preparation:
In addition to caffeine, tea also contains catechins, which readily form complexes with the caffeine and calcium in our tap water or milk. Maybe you have seen a film or a skin on the surface of your tea. This "tea cream" is formed when the tea cools down and shows exactly the complexes formed. Preferably, this also happens in an acidic environment, as it is in our stomach. (Colon and Nerin, 2014; Couzinet-Mossion et al., 2010; Xu et al., 2015).
It has been found in experiments with mice that the formation of complexes (especially in fermented black tea) inhibits the absorption and effect of caffeine (Huang et al., 2014). These complex formations are also partially reversible. If the tea is steeped for a short time, only caffeine dissolves from the leaves for the most part. But if you steep it longer, the catechins also dissolve and form the complexes with the caffeine. For an awakening effect, the tea should be steeped for a shorter time; for a relaxing effect, especially one that is beneficial to health, the leaves can be left in the water for longer.
From all this, one can now make the assumptions that the caffeine is bound in the tea and is released only slowly, so the effect does not start immediately and also lasts longer.
By the way, I have already reported on the effect of caffeine in the coffee article, so you can read more about it there.
Again and again you hear that you should not pour green tea too hot. However, this has nothing to do with the health effect, but with the taste. The tannins / catechins taste bitter and if you do not want to have this taste so strong in the tea, you can pour it less hot. But then you have to accept that less of the health-beneficial substances get into the tea. And what these can do so all we want to look at now.
Health effect of tea:
Just as with coffee, I have focused here on reviews that summarize the results of multiple studies.
Tea is generally good for metabolic health, one sees in these studies.
Green tea is believed to have a positive effect on Diabetesby lowering blood sugar. In general, regular tea drinkers are also less likely to develop diabetes.(Kondo et al., 2018; Liu et al., 2020). Green tea capsules have the same effect here as the tea drink itself, but can also support weight loss. According to the study, however, primarily in people who are overweight. (Lin et al., 2020)
Also the Blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) is probably lowered by tea, more so with green tea but an effect is also clear with black tea. (Liu et al., 2020; Mahdavi-Roshan et al., 2020).
While the coffee, as we have learned, negatively affects the Blood lipid values tea has a beneficial effect on health: green tea supplements and green tea itself can lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. (Liu et al., 2020; Xu et al., 2020).
The Cancer risk in general is reduced by up to 17% with regular green tea consumption. This is also true for most specific cancers, except for esophageal, prostate, urinary tract cancer and leukemia, where studies disagree. However, no statistical correlation was found for cancer mortality. (Filippini et al., 2020; Yu et al., 2019).
The Immune system can probably also be strengthened by green tea. Especially when protecting against flu infections, taking capsules and gargling and drinking green tea helps preventively. (Rawangkan et al., 2021)
Similar to coffee, green tea also protects against cognitive dysfunction. But seems to be superior to coffee in this respect, because there is no U-shaped curve. Instead, the effect increases continuously with additional cups of tea daily! (Ran et al., 2021)
Tea also protects against Fractures. The catechins in tea activate bone formation and inhibit bone resorption. In addition, some elements are present in the tea that influence bone formation, such as, fluorine, phosphorus, calcium. (Xiang et al., 2019)
Coffee and tea, the ideal companions to a meeting
Did you know that warm drinks not only give a generally pleasant feeling. They lift your mood and contribute to your satisfaction in the short term through the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin, colloquially also called the partnership or cuddle hormone. That says it all. Your well-being simply increases.
That's why I see tea and other warm drinks as the ideal companion at meetings. Especially when it comes to sensitive topics. To break the ice, you can serve pleasantly tempered tea at your next meeting.
In general, tea seems to have mainly positive influences on health. Not only green tea but also tea in general or even black tea have positive effects. So it doesn't hurt to taste your way through the entire product range and find your personal favorite! As already discussed in the article on coffee and caffeine, too much caffeine intake is not healthy and these effects would of course also show with excessive tea consumption.
By the way, tea can react with some medications and, as already mentioned, it can also bind calcium. So if you are taking medications, such as neuroleptics, or are low in calcium per se, do not drink tea at the same time as taking these drugs. (Hänsel et al., 2010). And as always: there are no shortcuts, there are no miracle cures. The most important thing is a healthy lifestyle: you can build on that and certain foods, such as green tea, can help you do that!
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You can also find the article as a podcast on all podcast platforms and YouTube on my channel "Rich Headroom".
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